Stone Age people lived on St Maarten since at least 4000 BC. In 800 AD the island, as well as many of its neighbors was settled by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America. They subsisted on fishing, hunting and farming. They were followed in the 14th century by the Carib Indians who were thought to have practiced cannibalism. These new arrivals are the ones who gave the region its name, and knew St.Maarten as Soualiga, or "Salt Island" after its main mineral deposit. The remains of the Great Salt Pond can still be seen in Philipsburg today. According to legend, Christopher Columbus sighted Soualiga on the 11th of November in the year 1493, the holy day of St.Martin of Tours, and he named the island after him - hence the name St.Maarten. The 11th of November is celebrated to this day, as St. Martin/St. Maarten's Day.

Though the island was in a region Spain considered under its control both France and Holland established small settlements. Eventually the Spanish forced both countries off the island. Only a joint French/Dutch force was able to retrieve the island which was divided by the victorious parties. After much wrangling permanent borders were agreed upon in 1817.

Almost two hundred years later the island is still divided between Holland and France. Flying in from Puerto Rico we stayed at the Oyster Bay Resorts which is owned by ARI the same owner of our timeshare in Austria. We were traveling with two other couples, Simon and Ann Truong plus Charles and Ellen Nicoletti. Oyster Bay is on the Dutch side of the island but because the island is so small we found ourselves visiting both sides pretty much each day of our stay.

To describe the differences between the two sides is to describe what appears, from our brief experience, each country's attitude towards its subjects. The Netherlands appears to take a more hands off approach and much of the Dutch side is given itself over to the cruise ship trade with their duty-free shops and casinos. Promotion of the Dutch language or culture seems non-existent with every one speaking English. The French on the other hand take a much more paternalistic approach with French language schools and supermarkets carrying food imported from France. The French side also has the best beaches with Orient Beach being one of the best. Though it has the reputation of being a nude beach most of the bare set stay at one end of the long beach. There are many restaurants and small shops lining the beach selling what else but beach wear. Orient Bay is also a place with many nice homes.

While at St Maarten I had the opportunity to go on a Jet Ski tour and while I have always hated jet skis from afar especially as they raced by while I was either kayaking or fishing I have to admit that taking a tour was actually fun more so than just riding back and forth. The food on the island can be quite expensive but we did find a nice Vietnamese restaurant the last day we were there. After a week of sun, sand, water and shopping it was time to return to the "real" world. Living on a small island can seem like paradise for a while but I would soon find myself driving circles around the island. One week is too short but two would have been perfect. St Maarten is now the third island that I have been to in the Caribbean and for my next trip there I hope to either go to Barbados or Jamaica to experience a British settled island.

Jeanne & DennisFriendsEllen Nicoletti
The Family